Secret Life Ep. 78 with Janet Akre and Susan Robertson from River & Rail ArtVenture

Barb 0:01Welcome to a special edition of The Secret Life of entrepreneurs. Today, we’re talking to two local artists who live and breathe artistry. Having gotten to know them a little bit over the last few months, I’ve really developed an interest and a passion in the work that they’re doing. So I’m excited to have our guests with us today.
Susan 0:27Before I go too far, I should actually introduce myself because many of you won’t know me. My name is Barb McGrath, and I’m the host of a podcast called The Secret Life of entrepreneurs. Susan and Janet have very kindly allowed me to broadcast into the Facebook page, as well as on to CJTR. So today’s episode is a little bit different than many. But let’s get started. And I’m going to ask Susan Robinson to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what to expect expect at the upcoming event.
Susan 1:04Hi, everyone, and thanks, Barb for inviting me here today. My name is Susan Robertson, and then the ceramic artists who lives and works in Outlook Saskatchewan. And I make really beautiful pottery that makes people smile. Now the event that we tend to, and I and I have to give Janet full credit for starting the whole ball rolling on this is river and rail Art Center, which is a self guided tour of artists and artisans in West Central Saskatchewan. And it’s going to take place June 26 and 27th of this year.
Barb 1:46That’s only a few weeks away eight weeks away.
Susan 1:50Yes. Is this where I go? Ah,
Barb 1:53Okay, all go. Oh, my goodness. Eye balls popping out exactly. How many people are you expecting at the event then Susan?
Susan 2:05We’re actually anticipating about 4000 people over the two days of the event.
Barb 2:12Excellent. Wow. That’s exciting. All right. Before we talk too long, let’s have Janet Introduce yourself. And tell us a little bit about the the artists it artists. I can’t talk this morning, artists and types of artists that we might expect to see.
Janet 2:28Morning, Barb, and thank you too, for inviting me on this adventure of doing a live interview. We have a I have been doing acrylic art, only for about eight years as a full time kind of activity. I am a retired English and French teacher. And I did teach art, or should I say I facilitated the many talents. Students have learned lots from them. And I think I learned that I could maybe do some of that as well. Yeah, so I am really happy to be doing this now a little bit more seriously, and helping other people to be able to test their skills as well.
Janet 3:12We have 10 towns 26 venues and over 50 participants, which is a lot. It is hoped we might have 15 participants. So we have really broadened out. And certainly we have a wide variety of things that are going to be people that are going to be making things for us making it happen.
Janet 3:38We have three fiber artists, we have 14 who paint, we have three who do pottery to then use with sculpture, we have seven who work with wood, but that might be all the different ways you can work with wood from cutting boards, to antler carving to so many different kinds of wood turning even a luthier which is of course creating stringed instruments with pine woods.
Janet 4:07We have two jewelry, we have a musical trio that will be performing. And we also have for aggressive agribusiness entrepreneurs who will be sharing what they’ve got. But you can add to that a winery and to galleries. So and seven, seven groups within all of those as well. So there’s lots to see lots to do. There will be demonstrations. And yeah, it’ll be a surprise for everyone. Just how much tell there is in this area.
Barb 4:41Exactly. So when you think about the wide variety of artists that are involved, are most of them full time artists, are they part time Is this a retirement activity for them are are some of the artists just learning an upcoming, give me a little bit of an idea of what that landscape looks like?
Janet 5:00I think that I could answer all parts of those, each of those questions in a different way. Because yes, there are some who are retired like myself, who found a passion and time to do what you’ve always wanted to do. And I think there are also I know, there are also people like Susan, who are professionals who have been doing this as a career.
Janet 5:20And that would be also true, we have some that are brand new, some who have been doing it for a long time in whatever way they’ve been doing it. And I think that, for some, it’s a discovery of, I could do something more. And this is one of the things we’re trying to help them with the Reverend rail art tour, so that they can find a space that’s safe. Find that myself when I had my first show. And you’re really nervous, and you’re not sure anybody will come? Yes. And I’ve already had a chance to reassure one person that, yes, they will come. Yes, they will love what you’re doing. And Sally, they will find that your work is exceptional, even though and I know that for myself, even though I really question if anybody would buy what I’m doing. Yes.
Barb 6:22Yes, exactly. So I’m gonna ask you both this question. And I know your answers are very different. How did you get started? What was the impetus that said, I want to work with ceramic ware, I want to work with paint and acrylics. And, like, what what inside of you told you that this was something that you wanted and needed to do? Su do you want to go here?
Susan 6:49Oh, I’ll go first. That’s not an easy question to answer. For myself, how I I’ve always had artistic leanings, and, you know, did art, drama, dance, all those things growing up. And then I got married and moved to Saskatchewan with a 17 day old baby and, and there was a local pottery class offered, we used to have a pottery Group here in town.
Susan 7:21And my husband said, you need to get out of the house, little bit of cabin fever, you would really love this, go and try it. So off I went. And it was just a matter of, I fell in love with it and became passionate about it, it just felt so normal, so natural. And as time went on, when I wasn’t in the studio, if I was out of the studio for any length of time, I started to dream about pots. Well, that’s when I knew I was really hooked, but still happens. Now when I go on a two week holiday. I’m really excited and anxious to get back in the studio, because I’ve been having these dreams about things that I need to create.
Barb 8:06So do you, do you dream? do you envision the creations that you end up making them?
Susan 8:13Yes, yeah. Sometimes from beginning to end, sometimes, in the dream, I, I follow a process and, and discard ideas and go, Oh, this would be good, or Oh, this would be better. So I’ve actually, instead of actually doing the physical work mentally, I’ve worked through all kinds of design decisions and challenges to creating the piece to wake up knowing Uh huh, this is what I’m doing.
Barb 8:42Oh, wow. That’s actually like, to me that that really speaks to how internal The art is for you. That, you know, you would find yourself thinking about it planning before in a time period that That’s not at all what you were intended to do. Wow.
Susan 8:58Yeah, it is really exciting. But in some respects, it’s not disappointing. I don’t know what the correct word is. Because when you actually go through the process of building a piece, without having thought it through to the end and having that vision, there’s there’s a lot of opportunity for creativity and experimentation, that when you do it mentally, and just Okay, I’m going to create this piece. You’ve lost the journey, and the journey in itself can be a very creative process. Yes. And sometimes, yeah, sometimes I have to sort of step on myself and say, No, don’t don’t design at all. I’m a little anal retentive. I kind of like to know where I’m going before I get. Absolutely.
Barb 9:49Janet. How about yourself?
Janet 9:52Well, I’ve always done something crafty. I can remember doing paper mache as a child and just Fast forward as an adult with three children, I did all kinds of sewing and I was involved in craft shows and did weaving. I did Petit point pictures. And it wasn’t till I started teaching art. And I had students that, oh, that were very talented in many ways.
Janet 10:22And then we started doing watercolors. I’m sorry, it was awful. All of a sudden, these talented children had awful things to turn out. And I thought, okay, I’ve got to figure this out for myself, because obviously, it’s not as simple as giving them the paints, and single to it. So that summer, I took paints and paper went up to our cabin, Christopher lake. And I said, a step by step mark.
Janet 10:51And I thought, I’ve got to figure out what’s going on here. So what’s the process? And I did that came back. So the kids said, hey, let’s try this. And I had five little step by step canvases, let’s do this a step at a time. And within days, they had already mastered that, like I say, they were artistic. senior students, they had mastered it, they went leaps and bounds beyond what I had already figured out.
Janet 11:22Okay, but at the same time, I realized that kind of like playing with paints. And so I did take a class, and I did play around with with watercolors for a while. But then I realized that I can do more with acrylics. And I can layer paints, the way I’m layering them with watercolor, but more effectively. And I think the other aspect of that is my mother always did a lot of Crafty Things.
Janet 11:48But then she was very, very artistically minded, actually. And I sort of felt like, like when I retired that I needed something to do, and that I could honor memory by painting, and taking one step further, just as some of her sisters had done. And the other part was that my husband, my family, encouraged me so much. And I don’t think without that encouragement, that I’d be where I am now, right? I sell a lot of paintings, I do a lot of painting, they do a variety of things.
Janet 12:21And all of that really does stem from the encouragement that people have given me. and selling them can be a bit awkward, challenging. How do you price things? I have one niece that scolds me regularly. And I don’t price them high enough. Yes. And I argue with her that I want people to be able to buy them. I don’t want to be stuck with all these paintings in my house.
Janet 12:48But one, one of the first Commission’s I did, a woman said to me, this is I want this large painting. She gave me pictures and thinking about it for quite a while. And I showed her in progress. And oh, yes, she’s loving it, loving it. Then when she came to pick it up. I said, What if we hadn’t talked price? Because I hate talking price. Oh, and I said to her with 180 be enough. And her face fell? And I thought, Oh, no. Oh, no, that’s too much.
Janet 13:26This painting, I believe, if I remember correctly, it was 24 by 36k. And I had spent about two weeks on. Yeah. And when her face fell, I said that too much. And she was thinking the opposite wasn’t she. Yes. And I said, you and your husband talk about it, let me know.
Janet 13:48Well, I I actually, I hadn’t finished the paper. I had a few things left to do on it. Okay. I delivered the painting to their house. They had a cheque ready for me for $350 Oh, wow. And, and I guess, again, encouragement, what I was doing was worthwhile. Yeah. And I think so many of us that are beginners or, you know, fledgling entrepreneurs, we need to know that what we do that we can ask the price that others are asking. Exactly. Maybe not right away. But I have raised my prices.
Barb 14:29Absolutely. And you know, I think that’s where this conversation fits really well with that secret life of entrepreneurs. Because artists are entrepreneurs as well. musicians are all types of art are still business. And for whatever reason in society, I’m sure this could take over our conversation. We’ve so many people have put less value on the arts, your time is equally valuable. To someone in the business community, you’re generating and cultivating culture, and that fabric that makes up our society. And so an event like this really helps people understand both the breadth and the offering that we have right in this province. How did the event come to be? Give me a little bit of history. Susan, do you maybe want to touch on that one?
Susan 15:25Well, it’s something I have wanted to do for years. And actually, Janet and her neighbor who’s participating, Dale Hicks, who’s a sculptor, had the event in 2018, Janet, I believe, I wasn’t even around miss the whole thing story in my life. And they held the event, their yards join, and they had a fabulous event. I heard wonderful things about it.
Susan 16:00They sold well, they had about 600 people show up. And then Janet wanted to do it again. And she approached me and I went, Oh, my God, I’ve always wanted to do this. Sounds great. So we started working on it. But unfortunately, we were supposed to have both the first one last year, but COVID kind of put a damper on our enthusiasm.
Susan 16:25But it actually turned out to be a wonderful thing, because it gave us more time to prepare. And, as Janet mentioned, originally, we had hoped for like six communities and 15 artists. And this has just become amazing. The response that we’ve had to it. And we we didn’t even know the the strength and breadth of the artists and artisans in our community. So for me, it’s been very educational.
Barb 16:55Yes, yes, I bet. And do you think as the event grows, so this year, I know we have more than 50% participants? Do you think next year, it’ll be up to 75 100? Do you think that’s even? JANET? I don’t know if that’s manageable. But But is it? Is it manageable? Because would we want to put would we want to put any kind of filter damper in place to to slow it down? Or do we want this to be, you know, sort of the art version of the Craven January where we’ve got 1000s of people attending?
Janet 17:30Wow. From an organizational perspective, of course, we we get the ball rolling, we do contacts, collect information, and all of those things. And it is possible if we we have to fine tune our system a little bit. But it’s certainly possible to expand.
Janet 17:48And I love the idea that we have this huge pool that people can either dip their toe in or jump in, take a dive. I like the idea that people can look forward to seeing so many different people in so many different venues. Yeah, I don’t know if that will, it will level out. Okay. I don’t know if some people find that it’s difficult to continue each year.
Janet 18:19But I do know that there are more people out there. We have discovered that. Yeah, absolutely. And I do believe that the public is also open to that. Because I think that what I have found in the last years, and I have done a show each year since 2008. Although not last year, but the we have gone from a society I think that goes from valuing Oh, I got a Walmart print, Isn’t it pretty? Yeah.
Janet 18:52To doing yourself, but also to wanting to have real art on their walls, on their table in their kitchens, things that have been produced by local artisans and artists, things that they can say I know who made that? Yeah. And I think that that is where the future is that we we keep it affordable while still paying for, as you said for the time for the scale. Exactly. And I think that if we can raise through meeting the artists if we can raise the level of engagement among the average person. I think that is what will benefit our long run. I don’t really believe that.
Barb 19:41I remember a story. I think Janet that you told me but Sue, maybe it was you. So I remember the story of it must have been new Janet. So in the last event, there was like five or six different types of artists all within this small radius of space and And you don’t think of that to know your neighbor does woodworking and somebody else does metal shaping and somebody else paints and you know, when like, you must have some fascinating conversations when the neighbors sit down and talk about this stuff. Because to the colas, the general public, we don’t know when we drive through a community or drive by a yard. We have no idea, the skill and the time and the quality of work that is in that yard then, right?
Janet 20:31Yes, I in that, for that event, I was told, oh, you should talk to Lynn Hermanson. She does fabric art. Well, she, at that point, had bins of things that she had been working on. And they were just sitting in her little house. And she had started engaging with the craftsman man craft Council, she was going to be juried that year, and she was quite excited about it.
Janet 20:57Well, she has now branched out and selling her work all over the place. She’s on Etsy she’s on. She’s in in many different galleries around it. And it just is amazing. The transformation that caused in her as well. Instead of being almost apologetic, that she had all this stuff that she loved doing. He’s now kind of squaring your shoulders and said, This is what I do. Good. And she was at our show in 2018. And exactly what you’re saying. People who, who didn’t realize that she had talents beyond just looking like a nice person. Yep. Yeah, she is now well known in the fabric art. Society community. Oh, wow. Yeah,
Barb 21:50That’s incredible. So Susan, tell us a little bit about your work. Because when I think about ceramic, and I read in your bio, that you’re internationally recognized, how in the heck do you ship ceramic internationally and keep it in one piece?
Susan 22:09Well, there is a whole art packing, that’s for sure. Internationally, well, I sort of have two veins, because I do one of a kind of sculptural pieces. And those are the types of things that you create and ship to galleries. And that’s more challenging because they tend to be larger and heavier. But in terms of production work, which is mugs, bowls, plates. Bubble pack is my friend.
Barb 22:42Do you went to styrofoam, you’ve taken out shares I bet.
Susan 22:46I should. Actually we try to do as much recycling as possible. So we recycle boxes, and we use shredded paper. And, you know, we just try to as much as possible, reduce. You know that whole, reuse, reduce recycle. It’s very much in the forefront of our mind it also decreases the cost for the person who’s receiving it when they don’t have to pay for me to buy styrofoam peanuts that are like static electricity and stick to you everywhere you go.
Susan 23:24Okay, exactly. Ladies, we are almost out of time. Sue, would I be able to get you to wrap us up? Tell us event date COVID precautions website, give us all the details that we need to know so that people can plan to attend.
Susan 23:43Alrighty, yes, I’m really excited. I hope you’ll join us. And it’s river and rail artventure. Our website is www dot river and rail, Art And the event is happening June 26 10am, to 6pm and June 27, noon till 6pm in West Central Saskatchewan.
Susan 24:11And if you go on our website, there is an interactive map, you can meet all the makers and see images of all of their work. We will caution you that we are following all the COVID protocols. So you will be asked to consider social distancing when you arrive at a site and to wear a mask.
Susan 24:33And unfortunately, no food or beverages can be provided because of COVID. And we invite you all to attend. I have to admit, the saddest thing about this event is I’m not going to get to go and visit anybody else by really disappointed but instead I’m hoping you’ll all come take pictures with me posted on Instagram and Facebook and we’ll see you soon Absolutely. And I think you even have your own hashtag this year, if I remember correctly. Yes, we do is hashtag Well, we’ve got river and rail art trail, which was our original name, and hashtag river and rail art venture.
Barb 25:16Absolutely. And I love that art venture. That’s what it’s all about. Get out, take a road trip, have an adventure, and check out the art that we have in the community. Wonderful.
Barb 25:28Thank you both for joining me today for taking the time out of your morning, working through some technology bumps that we had in the background, but here we are. So thank you both for being here. I love hearing about the work you’re doing. And I’m excited for the event. I’m still trying to decide Can I go or does the website and the website going down? Is there some risk there if too many people are on the site that weekend, so I’m still figuring that peace out.
Barb 25:54But if you would like to be a guest on the show Secret Life of entrepreneurs, just email me at BB at Google or reach out on Facebook and Instagram. Just to reminder, you can even post questions in advance of our live show. I’m your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Remember, you work hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.

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